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During an emergency such as a hurricane or a public health crisis, there is not only a need to focus planning and response efforts on disability-specific aspects of the emergency, but also to seek the input and expertise of people with disabilities in the process. If elected, how would your office work to ensure that state emergency planning (i.e., health testing, sheltering and safety of congregate living populations, et cetera) is inclusive of Florida’s disability communities? How will you work to ensure that communications and other information from the state is accessible to people with disabilities?

When I was appointed Florida’s Chief Child Advocate by Governor Crist, as the Governor’s liaison, I worked very closely with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) on a number of issues and realized the great resource they are for the disabled community. I would encourage collaboration with APD and the Department of Emergency Management on these types of issues, if they are not already doing that.

In the event that the global pandemic lasts through the current school year or possibly beyond, how would you work with state educational officials to ensure that relevant state and federal educational guarantees for students with disabilities are adhered to, and do you believe that it is possible to appropriately educate students with disabilities remotely or through virtual education?

It is possible to appropriately educate with technology if the caretaker determines that is the best option for the student. The key is to ensure those students have adequate access to the technology including the internet. The caretaker should also have the option for a more social classroom environment that is safe, but that might be limited because of the current circumstances.

In recent years, the state legislature has devoted much attention to the issue of mental health service delivery and crisis response systems in state public schools. In your opinion, how should the state work to ensure that the mental health needs of its students are met, and what reforms are needed to provide adequate mental health and crisis response services in our schools? When, if ever, is it appropriate for schools to initiate involuntary examinations for its students under the Florida Mental Health Act (“the Baker Act”)?

This is definitely an issue that the legislature ought to address next session as they assess the impact that the Covid-19 crisis has had on the mental health of our students. DOE and mental health experts need to convene a task force to determine the best response. Recently a friend who has diabetes had a very bad Baker Act incident. Protocols for response need to be examined, and caretaker and family member input in the crisis situation needs to be more appropriately considered.

It has become apparent that COVID-19 spreads most easily in institutional and congregate living arrangements. If elected, how would you work to prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of persons with disabilities and reduce other forms of congregate living in favor of serving persons with disabilities in their own homes or the community both during and after the current pandemic? What will you do to ensure that people with psychiatric disabilities are afforded the services they need to succeed in their own homes and communities and avoid psychiatric hospitalization?

Yes. When I was in the legislature I drafted and sponsored legislation that would encourage and compensate family members who, with some training, provide in home care for those who are disabled and on Medicaid.

Even before the pandemic began and massive job losses ensued, 2.7 million Floridians were uninsured. Research shows that under normal circumstances the uninsured have much greater challenges accessing health care, and these disparities are exacerbated during a health crisis. Do you support expanding the state’s Medicaid program to cover adults (19-64) with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to provide more than 800,000 Floridians with coverage? Why or why not? Do you support proposals to utilize a “block grant” or “per capita cap” approach to contain Medicaid spending? Why or why not?

I support the block grant model because it gives the state the flexibility it needs to target and expand those resources to where the greatest need is.

Despite the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) and related state and federal laws, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities continues to be much higher than that of people without disabilities. If elected, how would you work to promote meaningful opportunities for supported employment and competitive, integrated employment of people with disabilities in the state? What policies do you advocate to support the academic and career success of students with disabilities, especially for students from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds?

I would look to create incentives for businesses to consider training and hiring more people with disabilities. It would also include an awareness campaign to highlight the great return on investment for such an investment in human capital.

Nationwide it is believed that there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities who are incarcerated, and many of these individuals face substantial barriers to reentry when they complete their sentences and return home. What reforms do you support to ensure that returning citizens with disabilities have the resources, skills and mental health supports to succeed when they complete their sentences?

Recently, many prison reform programs have been launched to reduce recidivism and help inmates effectively incorporate back into society with the skillsets they need to succeed. I would explore how these programs could be expanded to include and address the barriers to reentry for the disabled.

What is your experience working with people with disabilities or alongside disability-led organizations? Please provide examples of your experience addressing and responding to disability issues or describing disability advocacy efforts you have participated in either personally, professionally, or while in elected office if applicable. If elected, how would you integrate the input and perspectives of people with disabilities in your office’s planning and legislative efforts?

As a State Certified General Contractor, my construction firm was an approved Medicaid provider for building home modifications to make them accessible for the disabled so they could stay in their home and not have to be placed in an institution. We worked with the client’s support coordinator on assessing the property for the needed modifications and then determined the budget to complete the work. When I was a legislator in the Florida House, I worked with the organization representing support coordinators to propose legislation that would reduce the amount of paperwork and address compliance standards so that the support coordinators could spend more quality time with their disabled clients. I have a very good friend who is a support coordinator and would like to continue some of this work.